The Long Roads, Flights, & Tracks Home

Michael BrownA year ago, my husband and I watched the streets of Ferguson erupt in horror. We watched pictures and videos of the lifeless body of one of our young brothers fester in the street for hours and heard about the culprit’s, an officer of the law, flee from the scene.  We learned that Mike Brown, a recent high school graduate,  was struck six times with bullets, at least once with his hands raised in surrender, and later heard the trigger-puller’s legally justifiable defense was that he looked like a “demon.” (How can one be executed for looking like a mythical creature?) Our eyes widened and spirits were awakened and angered as we witnessed the unfolding of a war zone in Ferguson. Gas masks, full artillery, violent and silent protests, arson, police antagonists, and antagonizing police officers, all painted a vivid and horrific picture that resembled that of which we’d seen in visuals after the King riots, both Rodney and Rev. Dr.

fer

We waited like the rest of Black America for some semblance of justice in the name of the fallen. We waited, though we had still not recovered from the verdict in the trial of Trayvon Martin, who was posthumously convicted of his own death. We waited, though we’d be told of the imbalance of Ferguson’s demographics in terms of police vs. residents, and its sordid history because of it. We waited though the media had already begun assassinating the character of the victim before his body had even been removed from the scene of the crime. We waited like viewers wait for the moment in a scary movie for the running, screaming, female character to get caught. We hoped for the best, but we all knew she would fall and fail. And, so did justice in this instance. I watched Mike Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden wail and weep and scream out of agony. Then, I watched her transform and become swathed with a supernatural strength. She reminded me of Sybrina Fulton. She reminded me of Wanda Johnson. She reminded me of Mamie Till Mobley. She reminded me of too many black mothers that have buried their children due to senseless violence that’s sanctioned by the government that should protect them.

We sat in silent reverence, imbued with fury, and watched images of our home country burning from the comforts of our _79245004_024867989-1foreign home in Singapore. We watched, just as we had watched the marches, protests, and riots after Trayvon Martin’s injustice unfold while being surrounded by the opulence and newfound freedom of self-expatriation.  We felt, for the first time in our lives, disconnected from our people as though we’d absconded from the plight and constant terror that it means to be black in America. We decided, with much reluctance on my part, that we needed to move back to the states; that despite the intoxicating and unfamiliar feelings of privilege, entitlement, and freedom, true uninhibited freedom to live and be who we culturally are without judgment or persecution, we needed to commit to our life’s work of helping to restore and rebuild black communities for the sake of our children and our people.  We needed to sacrifice the contentment of our bubble in Asia where we had helped to establish a vibrant black community to begin the Back to Black List that my husband authored where it was needed most. We had to do more than use words to empower. We had to be examples and SPEAK with our actions. The decision was less noble than necessary.

__________________________________________________________

A year later, our feet are on the ground. We’re back now. We’ve used this entire summer to live as nomads in different states as we researched our selection of cities to live. We gave ourselves the freedom to choose exactly where we wanted to live instead of being mandated by a professional position. (See another post that I’ll find the time to write one day.) Our original list of five plus one had been narrowed to two and a possible by the time we landed on U.S. soil for the first time in two years, but we kept all options open for discussion and consideration.  New Orleans and Oakland were both individual choices vetoed by the other for various reasons. [Insert sigh.] The wonderful city of Chicago which offers all of the culture, food, arts, and opportunities to build and restore is just too cold for too many months out of the year for this Southern girl and this adapted N. Minneapolis snowbird. My flashbacks from living in upstate NY for one year kept haunting me.  That left Dallas, Atlanta, & S. Florida as possible contenders.

map1_dallasOur first choice of Dallas was a practical one. The primary reason for moving back more urgently was because of my mother-in-law’s crippling illness and my sister-in-law’s need for assistance in her care. Living in Singapore made any necessary trips to visit very difficult and even scheduling phone calls could be a nuisance with the time difference. We needed to be in the same country to be able to reach them when needed. They both reside in Dallas. Dallas also boasted of thriving predominantly black suburbs [read communities], a once thriving black community in South Dallas that could be restored, and many fellow FAMU graduates that we knew would be willing counterparts in the process of rebuilding.  Though I’d never been, I encouraged the decision to have all of our items from Singapore shipped to Dallas as a gesture of my commitment to both the Back to Black List and to my mother-in-law and husband.

Atlanta is Atlanta. Those who get that just do. I love just about everything about my native city and I’ve converted a man who once denounced the very thought of visiting to possibly considering it as a place to settle.  We knew it’d be easy to a certain degree to just plug into the well established black network we have there. There are many like-minded people of all races that live in the city and many upper middle-class and affluent black families that haven’t forgotten that they are and the responsibility that comes with that. But, it’s still in Georgia; red state, redneck, red clay, historically black lynching Georgia. So, there’s that.

South Florida is all things tropical and beautiful. Who wouldn’t want year-round summers, mango and avocado trees in your backyard, free daily lessons in a foreign language, and access to the beach whenever? The king’s company, logowww.madalihair.com, also has its main large clients and distributors in Miami. But aside from the aesthetics and his professional benefit, it proved not to offer much for black families in general and didn’t feel as though our vision would be well-received.

Surprisingly, Tampa, my maternal families’ home base made an addition to the list after we arrived. We used it as our home for the summer, renting an airbnb home from a wonderful couple who lived just two doors down from us in the newly gentrified West Tampa. We caught wind of some exciting and new opportunities in the area and were reminded of how wonderful it is to be near family and a familial support system, especially when raising children. There were definitely pros and cons as with each location. We had all the offerings of tropical life and there are many avenues for rebuilding, but the black community is built around elite organizations, historic churches, or childhood allegiances that are all difficult to penetrate for transplants. I went to high school in Tampa and I’m a member of one of the elite organizations and a former member of one of the historic churches, and I still feel like an outsider at times. We needed a city that would welcome newcomers as people migrated to help implement the Back to Black List and one that offered varying commercial industries for those who’d seek employment rather than create it. Tampa became possible, but not likely.

224We spent time in each of the cities searching for homes to either rent or buy, looking for black schools, black banks, and black neighborhoods that could be the foundation for black communities.  We were repeatedly disappointed in them all, but especially Dallas initially because that’s where we put the most effort. Our first visit there in June proved to be surprisingly underwhelming. The article we’d read about one of Dallas’s suburbs becoming the new Black Wall Street was a bit misleading, or perhaps we misinterpreted. Black Wall Street was replete with black businesses that were supported and employed by black people in a community built around strong black schools. I think we are collectively and mistakenly interchanging community and neighborhood. Black Wall Street was a community. The black suburbs of Dallas appear to be black neighborhoods. Communities have their own economies and a sense of collectivism. Neighborhoods are just people who share the same zip code or grocery store. We didn’t find the former there.  [Please let us know if we overlooked something Dallastons.] More importantly to me, the school that we fell in love with proved not to be the best fit for our daughter.

Very long story short, or written in another post, that’s not going to happen. While in Dallas on our last visit, a sister friend reminded me that we have the power to manifest the desires of our heart when in the will of God. She challenged me to write

540x293_20140102_8b7da98709a1ab48d447479d93832c18_jpg down exactly what I wanted, not my husband or children, and to be as specific as possible. All summer, we were leaning on the kindness of others or spending far more than we should to ensure that we, our children especially, were comfortable as we scoured the internet, traveled the highways, and rested in airports in search of our next home. I knew I wanted an African-focused accelerated educational venue for my daughter where I too could contribute my educational experience and knowledge. I knew I wanted a community that spawned from that school, neighboring schools like it, and like-minded people and families. I knew I wanted to finally find a church that espoused the beliefs and understanding that Africans throughout the Diaspora are disenfranchised and that we can be liberated through our faith and collective actions. But, those things weren’t specific enough. So, I made it plain.

I want:

-to live in my native city this year.

-to have my daughter enrolled at the African-focused school of my choice there in Kindergarten or based on her aptitude and social development instead of age.

-to have a support system of like-minded people.

-to live in a house in the actual city limits, within 20 minutes of the school.

-to have at least three bedrooms in said house.

-to have a church home within the community.

-to begin working together with others to implement the Back to Black List as soon as possible.

-peace.

In one day, after many days of tirelessly searching and being disappointed repeatedly in multiple cities, we have finally found a place to call home and truly begin to work towards the liberation and advancement of the disenfranchised. That’s putting a lot on it as my husband would say, but we’ve already put a lot on the whole decision to move back to the U.S. As soon as I decided to envision and ask for exactly what I wanted, the path became clear and easy. I found a house in the exact area we wanted to live. It was available, move-in ready, and we were able to negotiate all of the terms we wanted in less than a week. I’m able to enroll my daughter in her proper placement in the African-focused school of my choice, and I’ll be surrounded by people of all backgrounds and ethnicities who understand the importance of elevating those who’ve been oppressed. And, we both have family there, so that’s built-in babysitters!!

All is not final. We will still be living out of suitcases and boxes for a while, but we’ll be in our own space soon enough ready to do more than watch the plight of those we love. After much indecision, insight, trials, and prayer, we are moving to……….A-T-L-A-N-T-A!!!

Our New Home

What Happens in Dallas, Leaves Dallas

freedom-schoolThis is why…we need our own schools. We need Freedom Schools again. We need schools that educate our children about themselves and schools that exercise the freedom to push our children to their highest potential, just as every other ethnic group has.

Educating and empowering children is a constant focus as it has a direct correlation to our elevation. When I served as the Language Arts Instructor and later principal of an African-centered PreK-8th grade school, I helped draft a culturally enhanced, accelerated, cross-sectional curriculum that challenged teachers and students to meet its rigor. When I left the traditional classroom and began consulting, training, and instructing teachers and students under the umbrella of Behavior Modification, I found that the greatest challenge in every age group was the lack of belief in self and, in most cases with students, who (the people;culture) they represented.   It has always been a long-term goal to either start a school or become a part of the community of one that houses our ideals to remedy this foundational problem.

                                        https://www.youtube.com/embed/GtElCrATcEk“>

Both of my children have had a monthly holistic curriculum tailored to their learning styles since birth that incorporates learning about our culture. I wouldn’t say I’m a Tiger Mom,  (I lived in Asia and saw first-hand what that truly means), but I am in the Big Cat family. I believe all children are born with a zeal to learn and will rise to meet every obtainable expectation, so I set them very high, especially for my own.

While doing our “for now and possibly forever” city search, we knew that finding a community or a place where one could be established easily would be the best fit for us at this time. Finding a school that met our needs was a critical component in the process. We searched Dallas the most extensively because it was the most practical selection for us. After two separate visits, we found the search for housing and thriving black communities to be somewhat lacking. Every home we toured fell below our expectations because it was either too far from South Dallas, where the predominantly black community once flourished, or it was too small, inexplicably expensive, worn, or aesthetically displeasing.  Every neighborhood or suburb that was recommended lacked black businesses and the sense of community we were seeking. We were also warned by natives and transplants alike that the schools in each of the areas we searched were not high achieving.  Sadly, this became a mantra whenever we inquired about the educational system in the city.

Yet, there was one wonderful aberration. We were told about a wonderful school that was both unapologetically black and Christian, two threads that seem to have been slowly unwound since desegregation. We did a school visit and I almost wept tears of joy. The beautiful imagery of our excellence, our ancestors, our history, our children sheathed every inch of the vast campus. Our Biblical tales were painted murals or stained glass windows in our likeness.  The school and idallasts adjoining community center was in the heart of South Dallas and had a track record that began in the 60’s. We envisioned galvanizing others to buy homes in the surrounding area to restore it to its prominence. We thought of the great work we could do there. The school encompassed the entire spirit of the Back to Black List. We were in awe, and immediately decided our choice would be Dallas based on the school alone. Yes, that’s putting a lot on it, but we were just that impressed and eager to get settled and begin working towards our communal goals.

During our first school visit, we’d left our daughter in Florida with my parents. We were informed that she needed to be assessed and we would also have to be screened through a parent interview before acceptance to the prominent private school could be determined. We inquired about the possibility of placing the kibibi in Kindergarten despite being a year younger than the required age in public schools. After completing a full semester of Kindegarten already in Singapore (currently ranked the world’s best and most rigorous school system), we desired to maintain the fluidity of her education as much as possible with placement in Kindergarten for the sake of her academic and emotional adjustment. We were told that the assessment and interviews would not only determine acceptance, but grade placement. Because the curriculum is accelerated, we were told, she would be challenged in PreK in the event that she did not excel on the test. We were very excited about her being in control of her own placement to a degree, and very comfortable accepting the determination based on the outcome either way.

Several weeks later, after constant communication with the Dean of Admissions to schedule the best time to travel with our entire family to Dallas for the sole purpose of having our daughter assessed and finding a home, we finally returned to the auspicious halls of the school. Two other sets of parents were waiting to be interviewed while their children were being assessed. The kibibi was led to a classroom by one of the Kindergarten teachers and returned quite some time later beaming from ear to ear. She had done extremely well; so much so, that it was questioned whether she was truly her age and mentioned that she might actually be ready for first grade. We were ecstatic. It was the first bit of good news we’d had in Dallas during any of our visits. It gave us the motivation to keep scouring houses and neighborhoods near the school so we could find one to call home.
This happened last Wednesday. By Friday, we received the general acceptance letter to the school, to which we replied with an inquiry about her placement. That’s when it all went South Dallas. The following day, we received a letter stating that Kindergarten readiness could not be determined from their assessment and that an individualized curriculum would be established for her to be challenged in the PreK program. Say what now? We were led to believe that after her testing, she would be placed in a grade level based on her performance. Had she not excelled on the test, we would’ve happily accepted the decision and enrolled her in PreK. However, she did exactly as we always implore her to do: her best. We expected the reward for which to be proper performance-based placement as indicated. It wasn’t. This meant that we had the choice of paying 10k for her to repeat pre-school at this amazing school we grew very fond of, finding another less expensive pre-school, starting a school in Dallas that met her needs, or finding another city.
I had such a sinking feeling. We were so ready to end this unsettled nomad family life, but we left Dallas with no home and no school because we were not willing to have our child possibly feel isolated in a classroom simply because the school wouldn’t honor the results of their own assessment.   It was later whispered that the administration felt pressured to place her in PreK in order to avoid the inevitable complaints and accusations of nepotism from other parents. This infuriated and bewildered me even more. I began to feel like we were trying to force ourselves into a place that just didn’t fit at the time. Hence, the final final decision.
Education is at the heart of everything I do, and the experience in Dallas has shown me that I must fully commit myself to using my passion for it to empower others. No child should have to sit and wait to learn with their peers for any reason in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And, no child of mine ever will.

Morning Praise

Because  I was reminded by a friend to Rise. Praise. Stretch. Cleanse. Nourish. Produce. Praise. Rest. Repeat.

I’m honored to praise You and glorify Your Name. Thank You for this new day. I’m thankful to have the chance to be a vessel for You once again. I thank You for every innumerable blessing and every obstacle that has been conquered because of Your divine Spirit within me. I thank You for the power to manifest the desires of my heart when they are aligned with Your Will. I pray that they are. Thank You for my incredibly thoughtful, faithful, praying, and brilliant husband. Continue to guide him so that he may guide our family to do what You’ve purposed us to do. Help us to walk fearlessly in that direction. Thank You for our health, strength, unity, and vision. Thank You for using us to create two amazing children. Thank You for their health and resilience through this process of transition. Thank You for Your provision and for surrounding us with loved ones and revealing those who are not. Thank You for closing doors that we should not enter and lighting the paths that we must tread. Thank You for peace in the midst of it all. Continue to strengthen us so that we may uplift and assist others. I pray for every one of us God. I pray that we adopt the spirits of love, fearlessness, forgiveness, and fortitude to press on towards our respective callings. I ask that You comfort all those who are cloaked in grief, anguish, or heartache right now. I pray they are reminded of Your grace and omniscience through it all. I pray they are embraced by the spirits of those who’ve gone on before us after enduring similar trials. I ask that You offer healing to those crippled with illness and make them whole and well again however You see fit. I praise You for Who You are; for the presence of divinity in my life. Thank You for every moment I have to praise You and a direct connection with You. Thank You God. Thank You.

Re-dressing Room: Repatriating into Racism

DallasLogoAll week, we’ve been tirelessly researching and riding through Dallas to determine if it is where we’ll plant roots and begin the process of helping to build a community. It was such an overwhelmingly exhausting and frustrating week as everything we found continuously missed the mark; the details of which I’ll share at another time. Yet, I’m led to share one of a few moments that resonated with me and illustrate exactly what it means to re-dress in the weighted armor of being black in America after being released from its burden for a time.

As we were traveling from house to house in the unforgiving summer inferno that is Dallas with our two young children, we were often driving slowly or parked in the wings of the road to look for our next destination. In one such instance, all of us were preoccupied in the legally parked car and suddenly come upon by two towering horses within hand’s reach of my husband’s window. The silent and steady stroll of the enormous and statuesque figures startled us all as we watched them saunter ahead of us mounted by two men dressed in full police officer regalia. Neither of them looked like the residents of the neighborhood in which we were looking.

Dallas Cowboys

My husband jumped into a protective posture and shouted some expletive. I clutched the knot I was trying hard to swallow in my throat, while my daughter excitedly asked if she could ride them as they kept gliding and canvassing the neighborhood. We had no interaction with them, and didn’t want one. Though we had stopped several other passersby all week to ask one question or another about a particular area, we had no interest in the insight or directions from the Officers Friendly.

My mind became haunted with an imagined altercation between them and my husband that left me breathless for a moment; so much so that I feared sharing it with him then or even describing the scene now. That’s when it struck me.

For almost two years, when living in Singapore, I was completely free to operate in my daily tasks without any fear of being snuffed out like a candle in a cabin in a blustery storm. I don’t mean the type of black woman warrior hear me roar conquering hero type of fearlessness that we must possess in America. I’m speaking of the type of freedom from fear that comes when there is absolutely nothing to fear. I had not one terrifying thought of interacting with international police officers and not living to tell the story because my skin offended them and caused a murderous frenzy. I never feared entering a sacred space and not emerging from it because some wanderer riddled with hatred decided my life had no value. I was, in every instance that my white counterparts are, free from the terminal tumor of racism for just a moment as an expatriate. (I’ll definitely be discussing that in more detail. You know, when I have time and all.)

The freedom from racism is fleeting for it has been completely shed now that I’ve steeped in its bondage all summer. Every week, it seems, there’s another occurrence, a reminder,  where a vibrant black person becomes a lifeless black body at the hands of someone in a position of authority, whether self-imposed or government sanctioned. Just yesterday, as we were leaving Texas, the state that offered the gruesome attack on an unarmed adolescent in McKinney and the brutal silence of our sister in advocacy, Sandra Bland, as warnings of its nature just in this past year, news of the death of nineteen-year-old Christian Taylor surfaced.  And, as is custom, the process of assassinating his character and lauding that of the officer [trainee] involved is happening almost effortlessly; a campaign in which I won’t participate. Christian Taylor, Unarmed, Black, and Deceased

To state that it is burdensome and distressing to re-dress in the constant awareness and fear thacartoon3613t at any moment, any white American can take your life and that of those you hold most dear and there will be no redress, only absolution; that in fact, their actions will be justified, and you posthumously vilified is a grave understatement. We have scoured the states the entire summer aiming for a place to be free again, and unlike the target on Black America, it’s been missed every time.